Direct and Cross Examination of Witnesses

The presentation of evidence begins when the attorney for the plaintiff (the person suing) begins calling witnesses. The plaintiff's attorney does the initial questioning of the witness, which is called direct examination. The purpose of direct examination is to get the witness to testify about facts that support the plaintiff's case. There are rules of evidence, which govern the admissibility of testimony.

Types of Questions on Direct Examination

The judge has some control over an attorney's examination of witnesses and can dictate the form of the questions presented to the witness. The judge has discretion to stop repetitive or annoying questioning. An attorney may not ask his/her own witness a leading question which implies, suggests or prompts the witness to give a particular answer. A witness can be asked to identify demonstrative evidence such as documents and photographs. Generally, a witness cannot give an opinion or draw a conclusion from the evidence unless he/she has been qualified as an expert witness. The attorney for the defendant (the person being sued) can make objections to the witness's testimony. The judge either sustains (grants) the objection or overrules (denies) it and allows the witness to answer the question.


After the plaintiff's attorney has finished questioning the witness, the defendant's attorney gets to cross-examine the witness. Cross-examination is a fundamental right in the American system of justice. Generally, cross-examination is limited to matters brought out during the direct examination of the witness. The attorney may ask leading questions during cross-examination.

Challenging Witness's Credibility on Cross-Examination

During cross-examination, the attorney tries to undermine or impeach the witness's credibility. The attorney attempts to show that the witness is not reliable. The attorney might also try to show that the witness is biased or prejudiced toward a party in the case. Another way to undermine the witness's credibility is to show that the witness has a stake in the outcome of the case, which might influence his/her testimony. The attorney can also question the witness about any felony criminal convictions or about any crimes involving dishonesty. Just as on direct examination, the opposing party's attorney can raise objections to the questions posed to the witness. The judge then rules on the objection.

Redirect and Recross Examination

Following cross-examination of the witness, the plaintiff's attorney has an opportunity to ask the witness additional questions. After this, the opposing attorney can conduct a recross examination of the witness.

Defense's Case

Once the plaintiff's attorney has called all of the witness's on behalf of the plaintiff, the defendant's attorney begins calling his/her witnesses. The same procedure is followed as in the plaintiff's presentation of witnesses. The defendant's attorney conducts direct examination of the witnesses, and the plaintiff's attorney cross-examines the witnesses.

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